Zinduka Festival and the South Sudan Crisis

The recent events that have taken place in South Sudan have left the new kid on the East Africa Community (EAC) on the brink of a precipice. The decision by President Salva Kiir to sack the First Vice President (FVP) Dr. Riek Machar and replace him with Taban Deng Gai is likely to aggravate the situation further and return the country into a full scale war which is likely to have a spillover effect on the whole EAC region.

The replacement of Dr. Machar with Gai took place after forty eight hours ultimatum that President Kiir gave to FVP Dr. Machar to return to Juba elapsed. Dr. Machar left Juba after clashes between his body guards and presidential guards at the Presidential palace popularly known as J1 and subsequent war between Sudan People Liberation Movement/Army in Government (SPLM/A-IG) and Sudan People Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) and bombardment of Dr. Machar forces and Machar’s Jebel residence by the SPLM/A IG forces. Machar has since termed the incident in Juba an assassination attempt.  

Gai was nominated by SPLM/A-IO faction in Juba to replace Dr. Machar, who is the chairman of the SPLM/A-IO until he returns to Juba. Dr. Machar demanded deployment of an international force in Juba before he returns and he has dismissed temporary elevation of Gai as FVP and has accused the powerful Jieng (Dinka) Council of Elders and president Salva Kiir of engineering the replacement in order to divide, weaken and destroy the SPLM/A-IO so that President Kiir can entrench himself in power a claim that Kiir has rejected. Dr. Machar has also said that he will return to Juba one day a statement that can be translated to mean that he is preparing for an assault on Juba and has also accused some IGAD states and some section of the international community as being behind the move to replace him.

Dr. Machar is however not new to controversy as during the independence wars with Sudan, he switched sides severally occasionally opposing the late Dr. John Garang by leading a breakaway rebel group. Dr. Machar later signed a peace accord with President Bashir’s government in 1997 leading to his appointment as an assistant to President Bashir a position he quit later re launching a rebellion.

Although Machar later buried the hatchet with Garang in 2002 and rejoining the SPLM/A, President Kiir’s Dinka community has always viewed him suspiciously with claims that he was becoming too powerful than President Kiir. According to a BBC report, at some point, President Kiir labeled him as a “prophet of doom”, who is hell bent on continuing his actions of the past – an apparent reference to the fact that he had challenged the authority of Dr. Garang, the SPLM/A’s founding leader who had a larger than life image and was revered.

Revisiting the allegations by Dr. Machar that some regional states are behind President Kiir’s move to replace him with Gai, it is worth noting that such allegations point to high level carefully choreographed political maneuvers involving various EAC leaders and states with interest in South Sudan and this can be better understood from the perspective of the Regional Security Complex Theory – RSCT that state “that, threats to military and political sectors travel faster and easier over short distances than long ones” (Buzan &Waever 2003). RSCT underscores the region as an important level of security analysis. A Regional Security Complex – RSC is a group of units (states) whose major processes of securitization, desecuritization, or both are so linked that their security problems cannot reasonably be analyzed or resolved apart from one another.

However the RSCT assumes that all states have developed the same way meaning that they are strong states. A strong state in this case is not viewed from the point of strength militarily or economically but the level of sociopolitical cohesion between non-state actors and the institution of governments within the states for example the cohesion between social movements/civil society and government institutions. In other words it is about the empirical sovereignty (ability of the government to govern the whole state and to provide social services) and sometimes it is termed as the degree of stateness.

Most African states only boast of juridical sovereignty meaning that refers to a situation where the independent state has collapsed and what is remaining of the states is diplomatic recognition by international systems. Instead of moving towards empirical sovereignty, most African states have moved the opposite direction ending up with regimes that are contested and which are led by strong men instead of strong institutions that are socially just, inclusive and ensures social security.

Most of these states have influence in cities and in regions with natural resources. It is funny that African states are too weak to govern effectively but are strong to grab resources from the people and protect the economic and political interests of the leaders. This might imply that the African states are deliberately refusing to try to govern effectively to protect the interests of the ruling regimes and their international partners mostly in form of MNCs.

With weak states and inability of the states to move towards empirical sovereignty, Africa especially the sub Saharan Africa has seen emergence of various non-state and sub state actors mostly in form of ethnic groups, ethnic based political parties, militias, citizen groups and rebel groups all competing to capture the state power thereby putting the region in turmoil and persistent conflicts. In the late 1990s, it was estimated that there were ninety eight such insurgency groups in the sub Saharan Africa which is more than double the number of the entire sub Saharan states (Turner 1998: 252-62; Clapham 1998a). Most of the conflicts emerge and are intense in the period preceding elections and after elections partly because of the winner take it all nature of African elections. In Africa, everything is at stake during elections.

In the period between 1988 and 1998, twenty one out of twenty five conflicts in Africa were internal rather than interstate with claims that various neighboring states were supporting insurgency groups in other countries (Buzan &Waever 2003). There were allegations that Rwanda and Uganda were supporting insurgency groups in the DRC and President Bashir at one point accused Uganda for supporting SPLA/M insurgency during the independence war with Uganda also accusing President Bashir of supporting the Lord’s Resistance Army. 

This partly lays credence to Dr. Machar’s allegations that some neighboring countries in the region were supporting President Kiir to drive out the SPLM/A-IO out of Juba and government to satisfy their own economic and political whims. 

With Burundi in turmoil since the controversial third term of President Nkurunzinza, political upheavals in Uganda and Kenya and increasing authoritarian rule in Rwanda the whole EAC region is standing between a rock and a hard place and the EAC people need to stand up and form grassroots coalition of social movements that can reclaim the states from the war lords who have maintained stranglehold on power at the expense of the EAC people. This can be done by forming a regional movement.

One such regional movement is the Zinduka Festival. Zinduka is a Kiswahili word which literary translates to a re-awakening of Consciousness. Zinduka Festival is a catalyst that compliments other ongoing as well as future efforts by state and non-state actors to build a sustainable East African Community by making it a people-driven-process as opposed to a political process. In other words, Zinduka Festival is trying to move the African states towards empirical sovereignty.

So far, Zinduka Festival have been marked thrice all at Sheikh Amri Abeid Karume stadium in Arusha Tanzania. This year will mark the fourth edition of Zinduka Festival and already the Zinduka Organizing Committee has announced bids for those wishing to host #ZindukaFest2016 to apply. So far ten bids have been received five from Kenya, two from Burundi, and two from Uganda and one from Tanzania.

Zinduka Festival is organized in form of various self-organizing convenings and is always preceded by the Zinduka Academy that brings together various Social Justice Activists, scholars, academia, conveners, EAC officials and grassroots people to discuss various emerging issues in the region. During the third edition of Zinduka Festival in 2015, there was a convening on Burundi Crisis that was convened by the World March of Women Kenya and another one on Regional Peace and Security that was convened by the Coalition for Constitution Implementation Kenya which is a member of the International Peace Bureau (IPB) and the local focal point of the Global Campaign on Military Spending (GCOMS) among other convenings. The Burundi Crisis and Regional Peace and Security convenings held joint sessions on Burundi crisis and came up with various initiatives that included formation of the Burundi Solidarity Group (BSG).

BSG brought together exiled Burundi civil society actors and friends of Burundi in the EAC region. The BSG has since organized several activities aimed at highlighting the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Burundi and has been involved in documenting several cases of gross human rights violations happening in Burundi.

There is need for the 2016 Edition of Zinduka Festival to focus on the deteriorating situation in EAC region and look for more ways of enforcing the rights of the EAC people which is at the mercy of ruthless dictators whose only interest is to capture power and accumulate wealth. 

David Otieno


Coalition for Constitution Implementation




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s